Shakhty Trial

views updated


This famous trial based on fabricated charges was used by Stalin to start a three-year attack on the technical intelligentsia of the USSR and to discredit moderates within the political leadership. Fifty-three mining engineers and technicians, including some top officials and three German engineers, were accused of acts of sabotage and treason dating back to the 1920s and taking part in a conspiracy directed from abroad (involving French

finance and Polish counterespionage). The story of conspiracy was fabricated by the Unified State Political Administration (OGPU) officials in the North Caucasus mining district known as the Donbass and focused on such acts as wasting capital, lowering the quality of production, raising its costs, mistreating workers, and other forms of "wrecking."

Held in a large auditorium at the House of Trade-Unions in Moscow, this six-week-long trial was arranged for maximum publicity, with movie cameras, a hundred journalists in attendance, and a different public audience each day. The presiding judge over the specially organized judicial presence was Andrei Vyshinsky, famous for his appearance as prosecutor at the major show trials of the 1930s; the prosecutor at the Shakhty trial was the Bolshevik jurist Nikolai Krylenko. For evidence, the prosecution relied on confessions of the accused, but twenty-three of the defendants proclaimed their innocence, and a few others retracted their confessions at trial. As a political show trial Shakhty was imperfect. Still, all but four of the accused were convicted, and five of them executed.

In the wake of the Shakhty trial, non-Marxist engineers and technicians were placed on the defensive and many fell victim to persecution. "Specialist baiting" ranged from verbal harassment to firing from jobs, not to speak of arrests and convictions in later trials, including the well-known "Industrial Party" case. By 1931, when Stalin called a halt to the anti-specialist campaign, Soviet engineers had been tamed and any nascent threat of technocracy defeated.

On the political level, the Shakhty trial served Stalin as a vehicle for radicalizing economic policy and sending a message of warning to moderates in the leadership (such as Alexei Rykov and Nikolai Bukharin). If nothing else, the persecution of the "bourgeois specialists" weakened one of the constituencies that supported a relatively cautious and moderate approach to industrialization. With hindsight it is clear that the Shakhty trial, along with the renewal of forced grain procurements, signaled the coming end of the class-conciliatory New Economic Policy and the start of a new period of class war that would culminate in the forced collectivization from 1929 to 1933. An important manifestation of the new class war was the Cultural Revolution from 1928 to 1931, in which young communists in many fields of art, science, and professional life were encouraged to attack and supplant their non-Marxist senior colleagues.

See also: show trials; stalin, josef vissarionovich


Bailes, Kendall. (1978). Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin: Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia, 19171941. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. (1978). "Cultural Revolution as Class War." In Cultural Revolution in Russia, 19281931, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kuromiya, Hiroaki. (1997). "The Shakhty Affair." South East European Monitor 4(2):4164.

Peter H. Solomon Jr.