Bukharins "Last Plea": Yet Another Anti-Stalin Falsification1

Grover Furr, Montclair NJ

Vladimir Bobrov, Moscow

The last few years have seen a spate of biographies of Joseph Stalin, all very antagonistic to their subject, all highly anticommunist. The latest is by Robert Service, Fellow of the British Academy and Oxford don (St. Anthonys College). Late in the book we find the following passage:

"Stalins desk at the Blizhnyaya dacha held disturbing secrets. It contained three sheets of paper which he had hidden beneath a newspaper inside a drawer. One was a note from Tito:

Stalin: stop sending people to kill me. Weve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle If you dont stop sending killers, Ill send one to Moscow, and I wont have to send a second.

Thus did one gangster write to another. No one else had stood up to Stalin like this; perhaps this is why he kept the note. He had also conserved the last thing written to him by Bukharin: Koba, why is my death necessary for you? Had Stalin wanted a frisson of satisfaction when re-reading it? (It cannot be believed that some distorted sense of attachment to Bukharin lingered with him.) The third item was the letter dictated by Lenin on 5 March 1922 containing the demand for Stalin to apologize to Krupskaya for his verbal abuse of her. It was his last message from Lenin and it was the most wounding. He would not have conserved it in the desk unless it had echoed round the caverns of his mind.

The party leaders kept the three items a secret."2

This latter statement shows astounding carelessness on Services part. As is well known, Khrushchev quoted Lenins letter to Stalin really of March 5, 1923, not "1922", as Service states here near the beginning of his infamous "Secret Speech" at the end of the 20th Party Congress, on February 26, 1953.3

In another recent biography Simon Sebag Montefiore has a similar passage:

Five telling letters were supposedly found under a sheet of newspaper in Stalins desk, Khrushchev told A.V. Snegov, who could only remember three of them to the historian Roy Medvedev. The first was Lenins letter of 1923 demanding that Stalin apologize for his rudeness to his wife, Krupskaya. The second was Bukharins last plea: "Koba, why do you need me to die?" The third was from Tito in 1950. It was said to read: "Stop sending assassins to murder me If this doesnt stop, I will send a man to Moscow and therell be no need to send any more."4 [emphasis added GF]

Both authors refer to the recent volume by Roy and Zhores Medvedev, The Unknown Stalin. In Chapter 14 of that book, in Roy Medvedevs essay "The Murder of Bukharin," we read:

According to Aleksei Snegov, who got to see documents relating to Bukharins final days, the prisoner asked for pencil and paper just before his execution in order to write a last letter to Stalin. His wish was granted. The short note began with the words, Koba, why did you need me to die? Stalin kept this pre-execution letter in one of the drawers of his desk for the rest of his life.5

[emphasis added GF]

But in a separate essay printed earlier in the same volume the provenance of this document is given somewhat differently:

In 1955, having buried the idea of a Stalin museum, Khrushchev decided that the dacha would be transferred to the Central Committee to serve as an isolated location where groups of Central Committee employees could get together to prepare various reports and analyses for the Politburo. They then began to refurnish the building for this purpose. Much of Stalins furniture was removed and taken to the vast underground chambers that had been built before and during the war as air raid shelters. Aleksei Snegov, an acquaintance of ours who had been an aide to Khrushchev, told us that when Stalins desk was being moved from his former study, they accidentally came across five letters addressed to him that he had hidden under a layer of newspapers in one of the drawers. Snegov could only recall three of them. One had been dictated by Lenin on 5 March 1923. He demanded that Stalin apologize for his abusive manner towards Krupskaya. Not long after it was found, / Khrushchev read out this letter to the delegates at the Twentieth Party Congress during his secret speech on the cult of personality. The second letter was from Bukharin, awaiting death, written shortly before he was shot. He finished with the words: Koba, why do you need my death? The third came from Marshall Tito in 1950. The text was brief: Stalin. Stop sending assassins to murder me. We have already caught five, one with a bomb, another with a rifle If this doesnt stop, I will send one man to Moscow and there will be no need to send another.6 [emphasis added GF]

As even a casual reading reveals, these two accounts do not agree. According to the first,

"The short note began with the words, Koba.."

While according to the second,

"The second letter was from Bukharin He finished with the words: Koba,"

The two versions also disagreement over Snegov and how he got to learn of the purported documents. According to the first version, Snegov "got to see documents relating to Bukharins final days." That is, Snegov was privy to documents about Bukharin, but not with other individuals.

By contrast, in the second version either

* Snegov was present when the desk was moved and saw the letters then;

* or, Snegov saw them later, when they were brought to Khrushchev;

* or, Snegov heard about this orally from Khrushchev.

There is no claim here that Snegov saw Bukharin documents, of which this "last plea" was one.

In the Russian original there is a further disagreement. The first passage, from Chapter 14, reads as follows:

, ?

"Koba, why was my death necessary to you?"

While the second passage reads:

, ?

"Koba, why is my death necessary to you?"

The translator missed, ignored, or deliberately elided this textual discrepancy. In the second passage Bukharin is said to have addressed Stalin in the present tense, as expected. In the first it is as though Bukharin were sending his note from beyond the grave!

The only common point is that Snegov was somehow involved. In other essential details, the two accounts in the same book! disagree. Evidently the Medvedev brothers do not read each others material!

This in itself forces us to doubt the truth of the story. Consequently we must question whether such a document ever existed at all.

"Bukharins Final Plea" Formerly and Now

Its instructive to review what Roy Medvedev wrote about "Bukharins Last Plea" in some of his previous works. He mentioned neither it nor the other two purported "letters" in the original edition of Let History Judge.7 In his 1980 biography of Bukharin, published only outside the USSR, we read:

As to Bukharin, he behaved with dignity. He did ask, however, to be given a pencil and paper in order to write a last letter to Stalin. This wish was granted. The note began with the words, "Koba why do you need me to die?" Stalin kept this pre-execution letter from Bukharin all his life in one of the drawers of his desk along with a tart message from Lenin about Stalins crude behavior toward Krupskaya and other similar documents.8

This is the "present tense" version of the quotation. Medvedev gives no source for the story here, or in the revised and expanded 1989 edition of his anti-Stalin classic Let history judge: the origins and consequences of Stalinism, where the relevant passage reads:

Bukharin remained calm. He asked for a pencil and sheet of paper in order to write a last letter to Stalin, and his request was granted. The brief letter began with the words: Koba, why did you need my death? For the rest of his life Stalin kept this letter in one of the drawers of his desk, together with Lenins sharp note about Stalins rude treatment of Krupskaya and some other, similar documents.9

Here the Russian has the byla nuzhna, or "past tense" version, once again elided by the translator. Medvedev cites Snegov at least eight times in this voluminous work but not about "Bukharins last plea."10

The fullest account of how Roy Medvedev supposedly learned of the "Stalins desk" letters, including "Bukharins last plea," is found in yet another essay in The Unknown Stalin.

Snegov was a longstanding friend of Khrushchev from the days when they worked together in the Ukraine in the 1920s. Snegov also knew Beria they both worked in the Transcaucasian kraikom in 1930-31. Snegov was arrested in 1937 but managed to survive. On the initiative of Khrushchev and Mikoyan, he was released in the summer of 1953, and he appeared as a witness in the investigation of the Beria case. In 1954 Khrushchev appointed Snegov to be / deputy head of the political administration of the gulag and later enlisted his aid when preparing the secret speech on the cult of personality for the Twentieth Congress. By the 1960s Snegov was a pensioner and happy to share his reminiscences with people he trusted. After a heart attack in 1967 he asked Roy Medvedev to come to see him with a tape recorder. They spent three days together, and he gave permission for the contents of their conversations to be made public after his death.11

Some of the Medvedevs information about Snegov is incorrect. They claim Snegov was "released in the summer of 1953." Party documents now available show he was not released until March 1954. On page 69 they write: "Aleksei Snegov, an acquaintance of ours who had been an aide to Khrushchev". In fact, Snegov had never been an "aide" to Khrushchev.12

Perhaps Roy Medvedev really did speak with Snegov as he claims. But if he did, either Medvedev never recorded Snegov as he says or, if he did record him, Medvedev failed to reread the transcripts, or to refresh his memory of the taped conversations since, as we have seen above, he "quotes" the "note" differently at different times.

Verifying the statements

What we would really like to know is this: is Snegovs story about the letters found in Stalins desk true, or not? Did these documents ever exist? How can we either verify or disprove Snegovs story?

I. Lenins Letter to Stalin

Of the three letters mentioned by Medvedev there is only one whose existence can be verified: Lenins letter to Stalin. The correct date is March 5, 1923. It was published officially by the Soviet government in 1989, in Izvestiia TsK KPSS No. 12, 1989, pp. 192-3.

Here is the information about where it has been kept:

"The letter of V.I. Lenin and the answer of J.V. Stalin have been kept in an official envelope of the Directorate of the Sovnarkom [Council of Peoples Commissars], on which was written: Letter of V.I. of 5/III-23 (2 copies) and answer of c[omrade] St[alin], not read by V.I. Len[in]. The sole copies. The answer by J.V. Stalin was written on 7 March immediately after the presentation of the letter of V.I.Lenin to him by M.A. Volodicheva. Ed[itor]."13

Under Lenins letter itself are the Archival identifiers:

"(TsPA IML pri TsK KPSS [Central Party Archive of the Institute of Marxism and Leninism attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union GF] f.2, op.1, d. 26004; secretarys entry, typewritten text, V.I. Lenin, Complete Works, v. 54 pp. 329-30)."14

That is, in 1989 Lenins letter to Stalin was together with Stalins answer in the Marx-Lenin Central Party Archive.

But more than that: the letters are in an official envelope of the "Council of Peoples Commissars." This body was renamed "Council of Ministers" on March 15, 1946, long before Stalins death.15 This is strong evidence that Lenins letter to Stalin of March 5, 1923, was in this envelope by about that date. It is likely that it had always been in this, its original official envelope, together with Stalins unread answer. Theres no indication it was ever kept anyplace else, including in Stalins desk.

If the letter of Lenin had been "in his desk" and then got into the archives, then surely the other two documents would have been put into the archives too. But no one has ever located them. Even Medvedev does not know of any copies. But before the Medvedevs book in 1980 nobody else had ever heard of either of them at all.16 Had they been known, surely some anti-communists like Khrushchev or Gorbachev, or the historians they supported, would have cited them. Therefore its safe to assume that neither document exists today. There is no evidence they ever did exist.

During the process leading to Bukharins "rehabilitation" in 1988 the special Politburo commission set itself the task of locating all of Bukharins hitherto unknown letters and any documents related to his activities. The note we call "Bukharins Last Plea" was explicitly mentioned, as is the fact that it is nowhere to be found in Bukharins investigation file.

(Com. Demichev. When they told him that he would be shot he wrote a note to Stalin: "Koba, why is my death necessary to you?" [Present tense version, GF]. It is not present in the investigative materials.)17

Since the "Snegov" story is wrong about Lenins letter of March 5 1923, the only part of the story which we can independently check, we are forced to conclude that it is also wrong about the other two documents, including "Bukharins last plea." Snegov claimed Lenins letter was in Stalins desk, though we know it was not. If he was wrong about this one letter, we are obligated to dismiss as false the whole story of which this is a part.

II. Titos Letter to Stalin

So far we have determined that the Snegov-Medvedev story about Lenins letter to Stalin is false. Weve also seen how Medvedevs story about "Bukharins last plea" changes with the retelling. It remains to see what we can tell about the third of the purported letters, "Titos Letter to Stalin."

In the revised version of Roy Medvedevs Let History Judge (1990) we read the following version of this letter:

After Stalins death a note from Tito was found in Stalins desk among / other important papers. The note read, "Comrade Stalin, I ask you to stop sending terrorists to Yugoslavia to murder me. We have already caught seven If this doesnt stop, I will send one man to Moscow, and there will be no need to send a second."18

This text differs from that in The Unknown Stalin of 2004 quoted above:

* 1990 and 2002: "Comrade Stalin" 2004: "Stalin"

* 1990 and 2002: "I ask you to stop" 2004: "Stop"

* 1990/02: "We have already caught seven" 2004: "We have already caught five" [Emphasis added, GF].

The textual differences in the Russian original are even more striking. Medvedev did not even trouble himself to use the same wording in both his books.19

The variations in this "text" are so significant that we really cannot speak of a "text" at all. All of these accounts are most likely fictitious even if, as may be the case, Medvedev simply failed to go back and listen again to his old tapes of conversations with Snegov -- if, in fact, such tapes exist. Medvedevs practice as historian is generally sloppy. Very often he fails to cite any source for assertions he makes.20

We have already concluded on other grounds that the Snegov Medvedev story of the "letters in Stalins desk" is false. From what we can tell, Medvedev first informed the world of this "Tito letter to Stalin" in 1990. I have not found it in any scholarship about Tito at all. Evidently no expert on Yugoslavia has thought it reliable enough to refer to.

Edvard Radzinsky and Dmitry Volkogonov both wrote massive biographies of Stalin in the 1990s. Both used materials from formerly secret Soviet Archives. Volkogonov evidently had his run of the archives, access to anything he wanted or could locate. Neither cites either the "Bukharin" or the "Tito" letter. They had to have known of them from Medvedevs work. But neither thought them worth including.

Conclusion

All the evidence we have points to one conclusion: the Snegov-Medvedev story of the "Letters in Stalins desk" is a fabrication. That must be so even if, as he claims, Medvedev actually does possess taped conversations with Snegov in which the latter relates this story. In that case Medvedev has simply been phenomenally careless in transcribing Snegovs tale. But "tale" is what it is. Like "Titos letter to Stalin," "Bukharins last plea" is a fake.

Viewed objectively, "Bukharins last plea" would be of little importance even if it were genuine. It would not bear upon Bukharins guilt or innocence, for it does not contain any claim of innocence, only of despair.

The final writings of Bukharin that we do have his appeal of his conviction, his final letter to his young wife Larina contain no claim of innocence either. In fact, in the two statements in which he framed his appeal for clemency to the Soviet Supreme Court Bukharin fully reaffirms his own guilt.21 Both statements show that Bukharin harbored some hope that he would be permitted to live and, whether in prison or in exile, to continue cultural and intellectual work. The text of his "last plea", even if it were genuine, might just as easily reflect anguish that these plans for future work were not to be.

But the anti-communist historians who refer to this document do not view it with objectivity. Instead, they try mightily to make it serve as "evidence" for Bukharins innocence. They would have their readers believe that the "good" Bukharin was falsely incriminated, or "framed," by the "evil" Stalin.

However, all the evidence from the former Soviet archives that has been made available since the end of the USSR points in the opposite direction. It all confirms Bukharins own confessions, repeated at least twice, but most likely many more times: that he was guilty.22 The present authors have studied this evidence in conjunction with our publication of Bukharins first confession of June 2 1937, the original of which is kept top-secret by the Russian government to this day. 23

The dishonesty of "respectable" anti-communist historians stands revealed to all by the intellectually irresponsible way in which they handled the tale of the "letters in Stalins desk". They could have, should have, and therefore most likely did, know this story could not be true. Historians have an obligation to inform their readers of the nature of the evidence.

By itself the fact that "Bukharins last plea" and "Titos letter to Stalin" are frauds that never existed is of minor significance. But they are symptomatic of a much larger fraud: the falsification of the history of the Soviet Union, the demonization of the Bolshevik Party and of the international communist movement in the 20th century generally.

Notes

1This article was first published in the Russian-language online history journal Aktualnaia Istoriia in February 2009. See http://actualhistory.ru/bukharin_last_plea

2 Robert Service, Stalin. A Biography. Cambridge: Belknap Press 2005, p. 592. The footnote on p. 660, at the Tito quotation, reads "Quoted by Zh. and R. Medvedev, Neizvestnyi Stalin, pp. 82-3."

3 One of the present authors has demonstrated that virtually every single supposed "revelation" Khrushchev made in the famous "Secret Speech" is false, and that it can be demonstrated that Khrushchev deliberately lied in most of those cases (and possibly all of them). See Grover Furr, Antistalinskaia Podlost Moscow: Algoritm, 2007.

4 Stalin. The Court of the Red Tsar. NY: Knopf, 2004, note at foot of p. 647.

5 The Unknown Stalin. His Life, Death, and Legacy. Tr. Ellen Dahrendorf. Woodstock & NY: The Overlook Press, 2004, p. 309. The original is as follows:

.., , , . . : , ? . - . . .: ; : , 2004. .392393.

6 Zhores and Roy Medvedev, "Stalins Personal Archive: Hidden or Destroyed. Facts and Theories." Ibid., pp. 69-70. Original Russian (emphasis added GF) is as follows:

1955 , , , , . . , . .., , , , , . . 5 1923 . , .., 1956 . , , . : , ? 1950 . : . . , , ... , , . - . . . . .8485.

7 Let History Judge: the origins and consequences of Stalinism. NY: Knopf, 1971. Snegov is thanked, along with other Old Bolsheviks, in the Foreword (xxxiii), and is cited nine times as a source of anti-Stalin "facts." But this story of the "letters in Stalins desk" is not mentioned.

In this work Medvedev wrote: "According to A.V. Snegov, Ezhov was shot in the summer of 1940." But we know Ezhov was actually shot on February 2, 1940. So Snegov was wrong here. Why should he be believed elsewhere?

Medvedev also quotes Lenins letter to Stalin of March 5, 1923, but he cites it from Lenins Collected Works, volume LIV, pp. 329-30, again, without reference to the "letters in Stalins desk."

Medvedev dates his book "August 1962 August 1968." Snegov had obviously spoken to Medvedev by this later date, but evidently had not or not yet told him of the "letters in Stalins desk!" Why not?

8 Roy A. Medvedev. Bukharin. The Last Years. Tr. A.D.P. Briggs. Norton, 1980. Copywrite Zhores A. Medvedev., p. 161. We do not have the original Russian text of this work which was published only abroad.

9 Roy A. Medvedev, Let history judge: the origins and consequences of Stalinism. NY: Columbia University Press, 1989, p. 375. Russian original (emphasis added GF):

. , , , . . : , ? , . - .. . .: , 1990, . 337338. .., ... 4- . .1. . . . .: , 2002. .273.

10 Neither the story of "Bukharins last plea" nor that of the supposed "documents found in Stalins desk" are mentioned in Roy Medvedevs article on Stalins personal library in Vestnik RAN No. 3, 2001

http://russcience.euro.ru/biblio/med01vr.htm

11Unknown Stalin, pp. 91-2. Russian original: . .. . .114.

12 Reabilitatsia: Kak Eto Bylo. Fevral 1956 nachalo 80-kh godov. Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi Fond Demokratiia (2003), p. 524.

13 .. . . , : .. .5/III-23 . (2 .) . [], .. []. . .. 7 .. .. . . 14 ( , .2, . 1, . 26004; , ; .. , . . . . 54, . 329-330)

14 ( , .2, . 1, . 26004; , ; .. , . . . . 54, . 329-330)

15See http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/___; http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/__

: " 15 1946 ."

"The Council of Ministers was created according to the Law of the USSR of March 15, 1946 by reforming the Council of Peoples Commissars of the USSR."

16 Nobody besides, perhaps, Snegov. But it is precisely Snegovs story that is in question here.

17 Reabilitatsiia: Kak Eto Bylo, Seredina 80-kh godov 1991. Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi Fond Demokratiia (2004) p. 40. Russian original (GF emphasis):

(. . , , : , . .)

18 Pp. 792-3.

19 Here is the text from the latest edition of Medvedevs K sudu istorii (2002):

., , . ... , , . - .., ... 4- . .1. .599.

Compare this to the text from Neizvestniy Stalin quoted at note 5 above:

. . , , ... , , .

20 Medvedevs faulty use of evidence and reasoning in the first (English) edition of Let History Judge is discussed at some length by J. Arch Getty , Origins of the Great Purges. The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933-1938 (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985).

One such work, however, was never published in the Soviet Union Roy Medvedev's Let History Judge. This biography of Stalin contains the most complete unofficial Soviet account of the period from a communist point of view. Unlike Khrushchev, Medvedev accused Stalin of Kirovs death, of planning the repression in advance, and of sadistically decimating the generation of Old Bolsheviks. It is a completely and uniformly bitter condemnation of Stalin by a former communist. (218)

In various places in Medvedevs book, Stalin is depicted as a paranoid, psychotic, former tsarist police informer who took a mistaken position on Lenins April Theses in 1917, military policy during the Civil War, Comintern policy in the twenties, NEP, the situation in the country in 1929, diplomacy in the thirties, World War II strategy, and postwar economy. Medvedev does not explain how such a blunderer could command a following within the party. (268, n. 31)

Gettys "Bibliographic essay" in this volume (pp. 211-220) remains an important criticism of faulty historical methods that still abound in the study of Soviet history today.

21 Bukharins wrote two appeals, one much longer than the other. Both are preserved in the Volkogonov Papers, in the U.S. National Archives. Both were published in Izvestiia, September 2, 1992, p. 3. Bukharins final letter to his wife was published in Rodina No.8-9, 1992, p. 68.

22 Guilty, that is, of at least what he confessed to, though not necessarily of everything the State Prosecutor accused him of. In addition to Bukharins confessions at trial (and his reaffirmation of them in his Appeal) we now have the text of his first confession of June 2, 1937. And in addition to these we know that there are, or were, at least three more confessions by Bukharin. One is mentioned in Reabilitatsia: Kak Eto Bylo I, 697, and two more by Vyshinsky during the 1938 Trial.

23 Grover Furr and Vladimir L. Bobrov, "Nikolai Bukharin's First Statement of Confession in the Lubianka." Cultural Logic 2007. At http://clogic.eserver.org/2007/Furr_Bobrov.pdf

This article, and Bukharins confession of June 2, 1937 which accompanies it, were first published as "Pervye priznatel'nye pokazaniia N.I. Bukharina na Lubianke" and Furr and Bobrov, eds., "Lichnye pokazaniia N. Bukharina", in Klio. Zhurnal dlia uchennykh (St. Petersburg) 1 (36), 2007, pp. 38-52.