Shakhty Trial

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Defendants during the Shakhty Trial

The Shakhty Trial (Russian: Ша́хтинское де́ло) was the first important Soviet show trial[citation needed] since the case of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1922. The trial was conducted in 1928 in Moscow.[1]


By end of 20's Soviet industry suffered from high rate of industrial accidents caused by forceful execution of unrealistic production plans and low management skills of the politically appointed directors[citation needed]. Stalin however saw this as an opportunity to clean up the management of "the old specialists", professionals whose skills were critical to the industry but weren't sufficiently engaged with communism politically. In his 1923-25 speeches he frequently expressed hostility to this group and inspired public resentment against them, for example based on their relatively high earnings and accusing them of "sabotage" was an convenient way of replacing "the old specialists" with people with more appropriate political views.[2][3]

In 1928, the local OGPU arrested a group of engineers (including Peter Palchinsky, Nikolai von Meck and A. F. Velichko)[4] in the North Caucasus town of Shakhty, accusing them of conspiring with former owners of coal mines (living abroad and barred from the Soviet Union since the Revolution) to sabotage the Soviet economy. The architect of these arrests and interrogations was Efim Georgievich Evdokimov. Technically retired from the OGPU in 1931, he would later lead a secret police team within the NKVD itself.

The Shakhty trials marked the beginning of a long series of accusations against class enemies within the Soviet Union, and was to become a hallmark of the Great Purge of the 1930s. On March 10, 1928, in response to the arrests, Pravda announced that the bourgeoisie were using sabotage as a method of class struggle[citation needed]. Joseph Stalin mentioned a month later that the Shakhty arrests proved that class struggle was intensifying as the Soviet Union moved closer to socialism[citation needed].

Fifty Russian and three German technicians and engineers from the coal industry were to be tried publicly on charges of counter-revolutionary sabotage and espionage... This was Revolutionary Justice... the same Revolutionary Justice that had presided over the guillotine in the French Terror... the accused men were coming into the court pre-judged... We waited in vain for a genuine piece of impersonal and unimpeachable testimony... that did not carry the suspicion of G.P.U. extortion. The "far-reaching international intrigue" never did emerge... Only a very few [of the accused], among them two aged Jews, Rabinovich and Imineetov, retained their self-respect intact. Imineetov said, "One day another Zola will arise and will write another J'Accuse to restore our names to honor."
Lyons, Eugene (1937), Assignment in Utopia, pp. 114–133, ISBN 0887388566 

Nikolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, and Mikhail Tomsky all opposed Stalin's new policy on repression from within the Politburo, but Stalin insisted that international capital was trying to "weaken our economic power by means of invisible economic intervention, not always obvious but fairly serious, organizing sabotage, planning all kinds of 'crises' in one branch of industry or another, and thus facilitating the possibility of future military intervention....We have internal enemies. We have external enemies. We cannot forget this for a moment."

They picked this Palchinsky to be the chief defendant in a grandiose new trial. However, the [prosecutor] Krylenko, stepping into what was for him a new field — engineering — not only knew nothing about the resistance of materials but could not even conceive of the potential resistance of souls . . . despite ten years of already sensational activity as a prosecutor. Krylenko's choice turned out to be a mistake. Palchinsky resisted every pressure the OGPU knew—and did not surrender; in fact, he died without signing any sort of nonsense at all. N. K. von Meek and A. F. Velichko were subjected to torture with him, and they, too, appear not to have given in.

The trial resulted in five of the fifty-three accused engineers being sentenced to death and another forty-four sent to prison. Among accused in similar trials and executed was Nikolai Karlovich von Meck, Tchaikovsky's nephew by marriage, who was accused of "wrecking" the state railway system.[5][6] The trial marked the beginning of "wrecking" as a crime within the Soviet Union, as found in Article 58 (RSFSR Penal Code). Workers not producing as much as the government expected were suspected of conspiring with foreign capital to sabotage the Soviet economy and summarily tried and sent to prison (or sometimes executed)[citation needed]. On this subject, G.M. Krizhizanovskii said, "Who is not with us is against us."[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Kotkin 2014, pp. 702–705
  2. ^ Bailes, Kendall E. (2015). Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin: Origins of the Soviet Technical Intelligentsia, 1917-1941. Princeton University Press. pp. 70–94. ISBN 9780691605753. 
  3. ^ "Shakhty Trial". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2017-04-21. 
  4. ^ a b Solzhenitsyn & p.285-286.
  5. ^ Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I. (1973). The Gulag Archipelago, pp. 44–45 (1st ed.). Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-080332-0.
  6. ^ Nikolai von Meck

Further reading[edit]

  • Walter Duranty, The Curious Lottery: And Other Tales of Russian Justice. New York: Coward-McCann, 1929.
  • Eugene Lyons, Assignment in Utopia. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1937.