The case of Mikhail P. Yakubovich (Karaganda), October 1969 (10.8)

«No 10 : 31 October 1969»

Mikhail Petrovich YAKUBOVICH was born in 1891. He is a great-grandson of the Decembrist A.I. Yakubovich and a nephew of the poet and revolutionary P.F. Yakubovich. From his youth he worked for the revolutionary movement in Russia.

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He was first arrested while a schoolboy in the sixth class. At first he was a Bolshevik, but after the beginning of World War I he disagreed with the Bolsheviks on the question of the war, and joined the Menshevik fraction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party.

Yakubovich played an active part in the 1917 revolution, was elected the first Chairman of the Smolensk Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and was co-opted onto the Petrograd Soviet as a Representative of the Western Front. He was also elected a member of the All-Union Central Executive Committee of the Soviets (VTsIK) of the First Convocation, and a member of the VTsIK Bureau. At the time of Kornilov’s attempted putsch [September 1917], he arrested General Denikin, acting as Commissar of the Provisional Government attached to the First Army.

After the 1917 October Revolution Yakubovich occupied a leading position in the Menshevik fraction of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, and tried to persuade the Mensheviks to co-operate actively with the Bolsheviks and with the Soviet system. He himself was working then as a food-supply commissar for the Smolensk Province—the only provincial commissar in Soviet Russia who was a Menshevik. When the attempted Menshevik-Bolshevik rapprochement failed in 1920, Yakubovich left the party and worked in executive posts in central Soviet institutions: Director of the State Funds Commission of the Council of Labour and Defence; Chief of the Manufactured Goods Administration of the USSR People’s Trade Commissariat; etc. Yakubovich was the author of a number of articles and larger works on economic policy and socialist construction.

Mikhail Yakubovich (1891-1980), 1960s photograph

A show trial

In 1930 Yakubovich was arrested, and in 1931 sentenced to ten years at the trial of the “Mensheviks All-Union Bureau”. From 1931 to 1939 he was in the political wing of Verkhneuralsk Prison. In 1936 Zinoviev and Kamenev were held in the same prison. In 1939 he was transferred to Oryol Prison, and then to the Unzhlag camps (now Kostroma Region).

In 1941, soon after his term of imprisonment expired, while working as a free worker in the Unzhlag camps, he was re-arrested and sentenced in absentia to a further ten years by decision of the NKVD’s Special Board. In 1950 he was transferred to Spassk, near Karaganda, in the Peshchlag camp system. He later described his journey from the northern camps to those of Karaganda in an unpublished story, “The Red Rose”.

After almost a quarter century in prison or the camps, M. P. Yakubovich was released in 1953, two years after his second term of imprisonment expired. He was sent to the Tikhonov Home for the Disabled in Karaganda. Until 1955 he lived there as an exile.

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Yakubovich still lives there today.

He commands enormous respect and authority, and despite his advancing years leads an active public life as Chairman of the Culture Commission, in practice the self-governing body for the disabled, through which they can defend their interests and rights before the administration. Thanks largely to the efforts of Yakubovich the Tikhonov Home is notable for its relatively easy-going regime compared to other similar establishments.

In 1956 M.P. Yakubovich was rehabilitated in connection with his second case.

In 1961 he sent a letter to the 22nd Party Congress, asking for a review of the “All-Union Bureau” trial. The Procuracy-General answered that the guilt of Yakubovich and the others convicted with him had been proved by the pre-trial and court investigations, and also by the confessions of the accused themselves. Soon after that E.D. Stasova sent a similar request to Khrushchev, but received no reply.

In 1966 Yakubovich was assigned a special pension of the sort given as an honour.

In 1967 he was summoned from Karaganda to Moscow, to the Procuracy-General. There he was questioned—in the form of an informal talk, with no written record —about the circumstances of the “All-Union Bureau” trial, and then he was asked to put down everything he had related in written form. In a written explanation, addressed to the Procurator-General, M P. Yakubovich, the only surviving participant in one of the open political trials of the 1930s, relates in detail how this trial was staged.

“No Mensheviks’ All-Union Bureau ever existed,” writes Yakubovich, and goes on to tell  how a “sabotage organization” was fabricated by the OGPU [KGB predecessor]. The All-Union Bureau was put together by the investigating body according to departmental representation by well-known and influential employees of the main organizations responsible for the economy: the All-Union National Economic Council, the People’s Trade Commissariat, the State Planning Commission and the Union of Consumers’ Co-operatives. They were honest workers for the State apparatus, wrote Yakubovich: they had left the Menshevik party long ago and, in some cases, had never belonged to it. Using promises, threats and torture, applied on a strictly individual basis according to the degree of resistance encountered, they were forced to ‘confess’ to counter-revolutionary sabotage.

M. P. Yakubovich explains his behaviour at the trial. To retract the testimony he had given during the investigation, in his opinion, would have wrecked the trial and caused a worldwide scandal which could at that time have damaged the Soviet system and the Communist Party. It would also have meant condemning himself to a slow, agonizing death by torture. If he’d really been an enemy of the Soviet system and the Communist Party, he might possibly have found the moral support to give him courage. But he was not an enemy. On the eve of the trial State prosecutor N.V. Krylenko, Procurator-general of the Russian Republic, a close acquaintance of Yakubovich since before the [1917] revolution, tried to persuade him to confirm in open court the testimony he had given at the preliminary investigation:

“I do not doubt that you personally are not guilty of anything. We shall both be doing our duty to the Party—I always considered you, and still do consider you, a communist…”

During that same visit to Moscow in May 1967 Yakubovich met A.I. Mikoyan, whose deputy he was on the eve of his arrest. During their conversation Mikoyan admitted that he had never doubted Yakubovich‘s innocence, but there had been nothing he could do for him at the time. On the possibility of the 1931 trial being reviewed Mikoyan gave him to understand that the question would ultimately be decided not by the Procurator-General’s Office but by some higher authority. At present the latter considered the time unsuitable for a review of political trials and to grant new rehabilitations.

Instead of a reply from the USSR Procuracator-General’s Office, in late 1967 and early 1968 the journal Issues of History published a series of articles by Senior Counsellor of Justice D.L. Golinkov. In “The Anti-Soviet Activities of the Mensheviks” (No. 2, 1968), Golinkov writes about the All-Union Bureau in the spirit of similar articles from the Stalin era using, among other things, Yakubovich’s testimony from the trial.

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While in the Home, Yakubovich has also occupied himself with literary work. Apart from the story mentioned above (“The Red Rose”) he has written the following:

  • ‘The Death of Boris Godunov’, a historical-literary work in which he gives his reasons for believing that Godunov [1552-1605] was not implicated in the death of the Tsarevich Dmitry;
  • ‘Christianity and Hinduism’, an essay on ethics and philosophy which attempts to prove the moral superiority of Hinduism;
  • ‘What is Time?’, a philosophical analysis of the concept of time in Einstein’s theory of relativity;
  • ‘Tolstoy’s and Galsworthy’s Attitudes to Death’; and
  • ‘Letters to a Stranger’, a series of political character-sketches, written from a Leninist standpoint and based to a considerable extent on personal recollections and little-known facts: three works in this series—on Stalin, Kamenev and Trotsky—were completed in 1966-1967; a fourth, about Zinoviev, remains unfinished.

SEARCH

On 24 April 1968, M.P. Yakubovich‘s room was searched, and all his manuscripts and letters taken away. At the same time the Karaganda KGB began an investigation into the case of Yakubovich under the article of the Kazakh Criminal Code which corresponds to Article 190-1 of the Russian Code. Two of his friends were also implicated in the case, accused of “passing things around”.

The behaviour of the investigator, Major Kovalenko, chief of the KGB investigation department, was —at least as far as Yakubovich was concerned — proper in all respects. The interrogation records were a true reflection of Yakubovich’s testimony. But the expert report on Yakubovich’s writings was a complete contrast to the propriety of the investigation. The experts, Gorokhov and Mustafin, Professors of the Social Science Departments at Karaganda’s Polytechnic Institute and Medical Institute, respectively, and a third person whose name is not known, wrote their conclusions in the spirit of the worst examples of the Stalin period. Their report contained crude insults and abuse; distorting and falsifying the sense and content of Yakubovich‘s writings, they accused him of provocation, counter-revolution, ideological subversion, propagation of Menshevik ideology, slander of Marxism-Leninism, and so on. All this related not only to his memoirs and political writings, but to his philosophical, literary and historical works as well.

Despite the experts’ findings, the case was closed on instructions from Moscow on 24 June, when the two-month period allowed by law for the pre-trial investigation ended. The letters which had been removed during the search were returned, but all the manuscripts, the fruit of many years’ labour, were kept by the KGB, “attached to his criminal case”.

M.P. Yakubovich‘s address is: Kazakh SSR, Karaganda 1, Tikhonovsky Home for the Disabled.