Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization

Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization

The Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization ( _ru. "дело троцкистской антисоветской военной организации" or "дело антисоветской троцкистской военной организации") was a 1937 trial of high commanders of the Red Army, also known as "Case of Military" ( _ru. "дело военных") and "Tukhachevsky's Case". During the trials it was also referred to as the "Military-Fascist Conspiracy" ( _ru. "военно-фашистский заговор"), the "Military-Trotskyist Organization", and the "counter-revolutionary plot within RKKA".

The Case of Military was a secret trial, unlike the Moscow Show Trials. However, it featured the same level of frame-up of the defendants and it is traditionally considered one of the key trials of the Great Purge. Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky and the senior military officers Iona Yakir, Ieronim Uborevich, Robert Eideman, August Kork, Vitovt Putna, Boris Feldman and Vitaly Primakov (as well as Yakov Gamarnik, who committed suicide before the investigations began) were accused of anti-Soviet conspiracy and sentenced to death; they were executed on the night of June 11–12, 1937, immediately after the verdict delivered by a Special Session (специальное судебное присутствие) of the Supreme Court of the USSR. The Tribunal was presided by Vasili Ulrikh and included marshals Vasily Blyukher, Semyon Budyonny and Army Commanders Yakov Alksnis, Boris Shaposhnikov, Ivan Belov, Pavel Dybenko, and Nikolai Kashirin. Only Ulrikh, Budyonny and Shaposhnikov would survive the purges that followed.

This trial triggered a massive purge of the Red Army. In September 1938 the People's Commissar for Defence, Kliment Voroshilov, reported that a total of 37,761 officers and commissars were dismissed from the army, 10,868 were arrested and 7,211 were condemned for anti-Soviet crimes.


The trial was preceded by several purges of the Red Army. In the mid-1920s, Leon Trotsky was removed as Commissar of War, and his known supporters were expunged from the military. Former tsarist officers had been purged in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The latter purge was accompanied by the "exposure" of the "Former Officers Plot". The next wave of arrests of military commanders started in the second half of 1936 and increased in scope after the February-March 1937 Plenary Meeting of the VKP(b) Central Committee, at which Vyacheslav Molotov called for more thorough exposure of "wreckers" within the Red Army, since they "had already been found in all segments of the Soviet economy".

Tukhachevsky was arrested on May 22, 1937 and charged with the creation of a "right-wing-Trotskyist" military conspiracy and espionage for Germany, based on confessions obtained from a number of other arrested officers.

It is said often that the case was also based on forged documents created by the Abwehr. However, Stalin's archives do indeed contain a number of messages received during 1920–30s signalling about possible involvement of Tukhachevsky with the "German Nazi leadership".

At the extended meeting of the Military Council of the Narkom of Defence held June 1–4 it was reported that the NKVD had uncovered a "counter-revolutionary plot within the Red Army". On June 2 Stalin reported to the Military Council that about 300–400 members of the military had been arrested, including 10 members of the Council itself.

According to the records, the verdict was announced at 23:35 on June 11, 1937, and the convicted were ordered to be executed immediately. Therefore there have been discrepancies in various sources as to the exact date of death of Tukhachevsky and others: June 11 vs. June 12.

All convicts were rehabilitated on January 31, 1957 citing "absence of essence of an offence". It was concluded that arrests, investigations and trials were performed in violation of procedural norms and based on forced confessions, in many cases obtained with the aid of physical violence.

Unresolved issues

Reasons and motives

There are no conclusive facts about the real rationale behind the forged trial. Researchers put forth the following hypotheses.

One of them is Stalin's consolidation of power. Viewed from within the broader context of the Great Terror which followed, the execution of the Red Army command can be seen as a preemptive move by Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov, People's Commissar of State Security, to eliminate a potential rival and source of opposition to their planned purge of the nomenklatura. The fall of the generals was swiftly followed by the arrest of most of the people's commissars, nearly all regional party secretaries, hundreds of Central Committee members and candidates, and thousands of lesser CPSU officials. Virtually all were executed.

Another suggestion is that Tukhachevsky and others did indeed try to conspire against Stalin. It was not necessarily a military revolt. It could have been some kind of "legal" action at the Communist Party Assembly or the Central Committee.

Another reason is Stalin's antisemitism. Half of the accused were Jews: Yakir, Primakov, Feldman and Gamarnik.

Suvorov, in his "The Cleansing (Очищение)", claims that all ("not only those involved in the Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization") the executed generals were absolutely incompetent as military leaders. They were all distinguished murdering band leaders who committed horrible crimes against their own people during the Civil War. Only these atrocities could secure the Communist regime. However, Stalin wanted to revive the national feelings in Russia, as a preparation for the war to come. Therefore he could not let the bandits lead the army.

Another explanation is offered by Suvorov: During the Civil War and thereafter, two military groups appeared in the Red army: "The 1st Cavalry Army" and "The Red Cossacks". The 1st Cavalry Army was patronized by Stalin. Stalin appointed its officers, was present where they fought, and they returned him love and loyalty. Among the prominent 1st Cavalry Army men were Georgy Zhukov and Budyonny (the commander). The Red Cossacks were patronized by Trotsky, at that time minister of naval and military affairs, and obviously sympathized with him. Among the prominent Red Cossacks may be mentioned: Primakov (the founder and the commander), Putna, Gamarnik, Tukhachevsky, and Yakir had much cooperation with them. After the Civil War, when the Red Army dramatically decreased its size, the two leading clans struggled for the remaining positions. Generally, the 1st Cavalry Army won the battle, and the Red Cossacks were humiliated, feeling "wronged" and ever complaining.

For example, when personal ranks were reinstituted in the Red Army, Primakov was given the rank of Corps-Commander (three rombs). He felt he deserved more, so he wore four rombs insignia, and so appeared in front of the state's leaders including Stalin. While the former 1st Cavalry Army men strongly avoided acting in politics, many senior Red Cossacks left political writings that didn't comply with Stalin's line. None of the victims of the "Case of Trotskyist Anti-Soviet Military Organization" were 1st Cavalry Army men.

peedy inquest

Vadim Rogovin's book "1937: Stalin's Year of Terror" contains a lengthy discussion of an unexplained mystery: it took only about two weeks to force admission of guilt from the accused, despite the fact that all of them, were relatively young, able-bodied military trained people. Rogovin contrasts it with the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, where the inquest lasted about 4 years, despite brutal tortures.

Existence of plot

There have been speculations whether there was really an anti-Stalin plot in Soviet military. Leon Trotsky in his later works argued that while it was impossible to speak conclusively about the plot, there are reasons to believe that the military had real resons for dissent which may have eventually lead to a plot.


* "Известия ЦК КПСС" ("Izvestiya TseKa KPSS" - Reports of the Central Committee of the CPSU), #4, April, 1989).
* "Report of the Party Commission headed by N. Shernik, June 1964." "Voennye Arkhivy Rossii, No. 1." Moscow 1993.
* "M. N. Tukhachevskii i 'voenno-fashistskii zagovor,'" "Voenno-istoricheskii Arkhiv, No. 1." Moscow, 1997.
* "The Case of the So-Called 'Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Military Organization' in the Red Army," "Political Archives of the Soviet Union, vol. 1, No. 3.", 1990.
* The Cleansing ( [ Очищение] ) by Suvorov, free Russian full text
* [ List of accused]

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