Friday, 17 August 2012

Averbakh 5: The downfall of Krylenko

In The Prosecutor and the Prey Arkady Vaksberg provides details about Krylenko's fate. The following is sourced from page 130 onwards.

Still the People's Commissar of Justice on 12th January 1938 when the congress of the Supreme Soviet opened, Krylenko, who had done much to promote chess in the Soviet Union, had been given a premonition of his coming personal tragedy: he had not been elected the previous December as a Deputy for any region and instead had to attend as a guest. On 17th January, Dzhafar Bagirov, an ally of Beria's, attacked Krylenko in a speech: Whereas Comrade Krylenko used to devote most of his time to tourism and mountaineering, he now spends it playing chess ... These words were accompanied by mocking laughter. Bagirov called Krylenko a poor Commissar of Justice.

During the Great Purge (also known as the Yezhovshchina, after Nikolay Yezhov) many prominent Bolsheviks had testimonies prepared against them from some time before, to be brought into play at the whim of the dictator. The seeds of Krylenko's downfall had been planted a year earlier, when he had had to reverse his positions held previous to the purging of Pashukanis, a noted jurist. On 20 January 1937 Pravda printed the following about Pashukanis's beliefs: The judicial cretinism reaches Herculean proportions. It was said by a colleague of the People's Commissar of Justice: Many had hoped that the fight against wrecking in the legal system would be carried out by Comrade Krylenko, but in order to carry out this task he will have to reveal a number of his own mistakes and put an end to them. Krylenko had to concede of his defective ideas that vulgar, primitive contradiction does not become a Soviet lawyer. Krylenko wrote article after article over the next few months in a desperate bid to prove his loyalty and stave off the coming blow.

Krylenko's arrest warrant had been drawn up on 15th December 1937, before the congress. It was not served until 31st January 1938. Five days before his arrest, Krylenko took a phone call from Stalin himself: Don't worry, we trust you. You'll get a new appointment, but in the meantime get the Code ready. Be quick about it, the people are waiting. Work at it like a Stakhanovite! Krylenko didn't finish the new legal Code. Although the man who had named  mountain peaks in the Pamirs after Lenin, Stalin (this after it was discovered that there was a peak higher than Lenin's!), Dzerzhinsky and Sverdlov temporarily took heart.

Initially Krylenko was accused of being an agent of British Intelligence. His explorations of the Pamirs allegedly enabled him to draw up maps and prepare secret rendezvous. Eventually, however, his NKVD interrogators concocted quite different charges. At first the questioning was led by Lazar Iosifovich Kogan, a captain who was to be shot in 1939. His biography in Russian is available here. Kogan set out to prove that Krylenko had been an agent of multiple foreign intelligence services, had planned to wipe out the entire Soviet leadership and had schemed for the military intervention of foreign powers. The evidence had been built up over a series of previous interrogations of other enemies of the people, all of whom denounced Krylenko as a wrecker. When Krylenko was rehabilitated in 1955, it was discovered that not one of these denunciations could be found in the written statements of the tortured exposers.

Krylenko held out for four days. On 3rd February 1938 he confessed to having conspired against Lenin from before the Bolshevik coup in 1917. He also admitted to joining a body led by Bukharin in 1922 whose purpose was to stage a coup. It is known that Krylenko was interrogated at least twice more, on 3rd April and 28th July. On the konveier he revealed the names of around thirty accessories. Not all of whom were subsequently arrested. At some stage Kogan was replaced as the chief interrogator by Aronson. Krylenko assumed that things were looking up and retracted his confession. He then saw Aronson write: The person under interrogation confessed to everything. This broke Krylenko, who signed the document. He was ready for trial. It lasted twenty minutes, shortly after which he was shot. It was the 29th July 1938, the day after his final interrogation.

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