A few years back, I visited the GULag Museum in Moscow. Perhaps from a westerner’s point of view, this museum is a how a Russian museum is supposed to look. It was cold, damp, and enclosed in a tight concrete prison, lost in the middle of the labyrinth of Muscovian streets. It tells the story of some of the darkest secrets of Stalinism.
For those who are unfamiliar, between the years of 1934 and 1940 Stalin held what became known as the Great Purge. For those six years party members liquidated each other in an attempt to survive the purge themselves. These were Communist party members themselves turning each other over to the government. Now in the USSR, contrary to popular belief, not everyone was a member of the Communist party, so those who were not, were ironically exempt from this great purge. By the end, nearly 1.7 million communists were sent to the GULag, of which 700,000 never returned. This is only a brief introduction, but we will revisit the Great Purge.
But part of the museum is dedicated to the memory of high ranking party leaders that disappeared after the great purge. They disappeared because after they were sent away or killed, Stalin had important photos retouched without them, he had their names removed from records, and in many cases he vindicated them in events, in which they took no part.
Bukharin is a great example of this. After his death in the purge, records were changed vindicating him as a traitor to the Bolshevik cause. I was recently reading an old USSR publication from 1939, where he and Trotsky were accused of fighting on the side of the Whites during the civil war, something that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
But my novel is about the truth of the revolution, and while great scholarship has been done on Bukharin since his name was exonerated by later Secretaries, like Khrushchev, the problem remains that those closest to him, friends like Osinskii, Stukov, and Piatakov, have all but disappeared into the vast chasm of history. Unfortunately for the historian in me, there is a void in the historicity of adding his friends, but there is also potential for the writer in me.
For example, with Stukov, I found a picture of the leaders in the Left Opposition in the Communist party, which definitely contains Stukov. A picture of 10 leaders, of which only three are known, so I picked one and named him Stukov. Also a small biography exists of him, just a paragraph long, but not much more besides his name popping in and out of various records. So I will attempt to fill the void, and whether I’m wrong or right, hopefully, I will be close.
© A River Runs Through It Photography