This chapter deals with interpretations of the Soviet 1930s: the ideals of the Soviet Constitution of 1936 and their relation to the historical reality of the ‘Stalinist Purges’. Particular attention is paid to the case of the theoretician Nikolai Bukharin, a victim of the 1938 Show Trial.
The Soviet Constitution of 1936 introduced many laws promoting equality, democracy, and the rule of law. Nikolai Bukharin participated in writing the draft of the constitution, but he was later arrested and accused of treason. After a Show Trial in Moscow, he was sentenced to death and executed in 1938. The obvious discrepancy between the Constitution’s utopian promises and the arbitrariness of the Show Trials has been commented in many ways. This chapter analyses different narratives related to this subject, from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s famous justification of Bukharin’s Show Trial in ‘Humanism and Terror’, to Arthur Koestler’s rhetoric of vengeance in ‘Darkness at Noon’, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s condemnation of Bukharin in ‘Gulag Archipelago’. Reminding us of Bukharin’s ambiguous role in Soviet history, this chapter reveals different frames of interpretation of victimhood and agency in the Stalin Era. It uncovers the problematic role of enemy images and fear of terror in times of utopian promises.